Posing in the gold-plated wings of Raymond James Stadium, The Weeknd readies for his halftime show. (Courtesy of Stereogum)
Posing in the gold-plated wings of Raymond James Stadium, The Weeknd readies for his halftime show.

Courtesy of Stereogum

Super Bowl Weeknd: Performance was ‘Heartless’

February 13, 2021

We all know The Weeknd. “After Hours” sold upwards of 400 thousand copies in its first week. Spurred by its viral TikTok success, “Blinding Lights” is still in the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100 over a year after its release, the longest-running top 10 in the chart’s 60-year history. The Weeknd certified his success with the release of his greatest hits album, “The Highlights,” a 104-date world tour announcement and promptly followed it up with a Super Bowl LV performance. 

Breaking from tradition, The Weeknd opted out of any surprise guests or collaborators, unlike his predecessors Jennifer Lopez and Shakira, whose 2020 Super Bowl performance has since surpassed 190 million views on Youtube. But, something — anything — to spice things up would’ve been greatly appreciated. The lack of movement on stage, with the exception of the choir/orchestra occasionally featured in the background, made me yearn for another Beyonce vs. Bruno Mars dance battle. 

Emerging from the futuristic choir hidden in the stands, The Weeknd sang a medley of his biggest hits. Foregoing a stage set in the center circle, The Weeknd instead set up in the stands above the Chief’s endzone. Despite his vast back-catalog and hit-collection, the lackluster performance did not compare to years past. The 13-minute set was plagued by audio issues; The Weeknd’s lyrics often blended together into an unintelligible hum, drowned out by the overpowering instrumental.

Pelted by raining footballs, The Weeknd stars in a commercial for his Super Bowl LV performance posted to his Instagram account. (Courtesy of Billboard)

Further setting his performance apart from past halftime shows, there was a prolonged portion of the set in the wings of the stands, forcing the in-person audience to watch the performance on the Jumbo-Tron. Initially, it was appealing. Distorted footage of The Weeknd as he came in and out of focus, stepping towards and then away from the camera in gold-plated halls provided a welcome respite from the otherwise run-of-the-mill set. Bandage-clad dancers crashed into The Weeknd and the walls creating a scene of chaos. Unfortunately for those watching, the excitement created by the sudden introduction of the dancers and jittery camera-work soon lost its element of surprise and instead dragged on until The Weeknd finally arrived on the field itself. 

The Weeknd’s backup dancers were another low-point. Their haphazard and sometimes directionless running on the field was less than compelling. If you’ve been keeping up with The Weeknd through his slew of 2020 award show performances (especially the American Music Awards and Video Music Awards), the dancers’ beat-up and bloodied look may not have come as a surprise. If you somehow managed to avoid it, here’s the history: According to Variety, The Weeknd is reflecting on “people manipulating themselves for superficial reasons to please and be validated.” While the choreography was lacking, The Weeknd put significant effort into his performance’s storyline.

Striding among a sea of beat-up back-up dancers, The Weeknd performs “Blinding Lights.” (Courtesy of USA Today)

The Weeknd’s halftime show was a huge disappointment. He has slowly built up a larger-than-life persona since emerging into the mainstream with 2015 hits like “The Hills” and “Can’t Feel My Face.” What should have been the cementing of his place as one of music’s most prominent figures, instead, fell short, leaving both the 25 thousand in-person audience and the Super Bowl’s 185 million at-home viewers in disappointment. 

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